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ROSICA:Past Performance is an Indicator of Future Decisions

As summer comes to an end, election season is in full swing.  While many consider these off-year elections unimportant, I believe that local elections impact us more than state and national races. Specifically, school board elections matter much more than many people realize.

First and foremost, Pennsylvania is one of very few states that grant school directors the authority to raise taxes without the consent of voters.  Currently, the West Chester Area School District’s (WCASD) annual budget is over $300 million dollars.  While many residents don’t mind paying taxes to support our schools, the district’s performance in recent years seems to indicate that there is not a strong return on investment.  Paying your school taxes should be an investment in our students’ and our community’s future.

As a professional who has worked in the field of education for over 30 years, I do not believe that standardized tests are the best measure of individual student achievement. However, they are one indicator to assess the effectiveness of schools. With a $300 million annual budget, it would be a reasonable conclusion that the WCASD has stellar academic outcomes.

However, based on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) testing data for 2022, only 25 percent of WCASD 8th graders were proficient in Math. Additionally, proficiency in English Language Arts for elementary school students actually dropped from 75% in 2021-2022 to 73% in 2022-2023. Learning to read at the elementary level is an indicator of future success. When a child leaves 5th grade below the proficient reading level, they are at a much greater risk of never learning to read and potentially dropping out of school. Currently, over 25 percent of the district’s elementary school children are not proficient in reading.

In addition to declining test scores, the Pennsylvania Department of Education recently placed two WCASD middle schools and one elementary school on a “watch list” because students in those schools are experiencing a prolonged period of academic distress. Fewer high school students are taking the SATs. While the budget has increased 52 percent since 2013, academic outcomes have decreased. This is not a very good return on the taxpayers’ investment.

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Auditor General issued a report in January stating that the WCASD school directors have not been good stewards of tax dollars. According to the report, the district played a “shell game” to move money around and “sandbagged” the budget to allow the board to raise taxes without taxpayer consent.

“The overall results of this audit should raise concerns due to the district’s common yet questionable practices that are placing an excess burden on taxpayers across Pennsylvania,” Auditor General DeFoor said in the report. While this activity was not illegal, it was at the least nontransparent, and at the worst, unethical.

There are three incumbent school board directors running for re-election in November. Those three directors voted to raise our taxes over multiple years when the Auditor General stated that it was unnecessary.  These three incumbents also voted to keep schools closed and supported masking mandates after the state Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.

While many in our community have moved past the school closures and mask mandates, it is important to remember how much our children suffered both academically and socially. And our most vulnerable children have endured the most dire outcomes.  Despite the evidence documenting the adverse effects of school closures, there are schools around the country that have already transitioned to remote learning due to COVID and others that have reinstated masking. Will WCASD do the same?

If past performance is any indication of future actions, the answer is yes. If the answer is no, then each of the three incumbents should publicly acknowledge their voting record and their poor decisions. They are at least partially responsible for the abysmal academic decline of the district, and they are responsible for raising taxes unnecessarily.  Would you continue to invest in a stock portfolio with declining results and increased prices?

Absent assurances from the three incumbents regarding school closures, masking, academic performance, and taxes, we simply cannot trust them to do what is right for our students and our community. It is important to remember these facts on election day.  Your vote is private, and no one needs to know who you vote for, so vote your conscience and do what is right and best for our children.

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DOEBLER: School Directors and Candidates: Will You Answer the Call to Protect Our Girls?

As the chair of Protect Bucks PAC, I’m deeply committed to championing a cause that strikes at the very core of issues facing Bucks County school districts – the fairness and integrity of girls’ sports and the safety and privacy of female athletes.

Our collective efforts have given rise to our Petition to Protect Girls’ Sports, a call to action for our school boards to safeguard girls’ sports and the privacy of our female athletes. This petition underscores why we believe this issue is of paramount importance. In a few weeks, we have collected 1500 signatures in support of this cause, and counting.

Protect Bucks PAC is 100 percent women-founded and women-led. Each of us shares a meaningful personal connection to girls’ sports. We are mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, and friends, and many of us were once young athletes ourselves. These experiences have shaped our understanding of the profound importance of fairness in sports. We know that participation in athletics is key to developing confidence and independence for young women, and that excelling opens doors to opportunities that would otherwise remain out of reach. The advancement of women has come too far to allow girls to be held back by political ideologies.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), responsible for overseeing school sports, has relinquished its responsibility to ensure fair competition in girls’ sports by deferring decisions about who can compete to each individual school district. This has resulted in a lack of consistency in policies across our county and across our state. It means that the rules might change depending on where a game, match, or meet is held.

The lack of clear guidance will only harm female athletes. Male athletes possess inherent biological advantages over female athletes. These advantages, such as physical stature, bone density, lung capacity, muscle mass, and wingspan, are well-documented, and they persist even with the use of puberty-suppressing drugs. Allowing biological male athletes to compete in girls’ sports not only endangers female competitors, but also creates an unlevel playing field in terms of roster spots, awards, scholarships, and other opportunities. This past spring, a high school track athlete from western PA was excluded from states when a biological male took her spot. Without solid policies, situations like these will become more common.

It’s also crucial that we implement policies to protect the privacy and dignity of our female athletes in girls’ locker rooms. We firmly believe that it is both unnecessary and unjust to compromise the privacy of female athletes to accommodate male students who may be grappling with identity-related challenges. Practical and fair accommodations, such as providing private changing rooms for students who prefer them, can ensure the comfort and security of all student athletes.

Fortunately, Central Bucks School District has taken an essential step by initiating discussions to establish a clear policy aligning with Title IX protections, intending to maintain separate sports categories based on biological sex. It is our hope that this policy will pass board vote and become district policy. In a similar vein, Pennridge School District introduced a local policy this year that respects sex-based bathroom and locker room access. That policy passed 8 to 1, with the lone no vote coming from the only Democrat on the Pennridge board, Ron Wurz.

But these policies, while commendable, are only the start for protecting girls in Bucks County. It is our hope that all Bucks County districts will implement similar policies, to preserve the fairness and integrity of girls’ sports, as well as the safety and privacy of female athletes.

Board Directors and Candidates for School Board— this issue is too important to ignore. Will you answer the call to protect our girls?

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VALYO: Republicans Unfairly Attacking Democrat’s Election Wins

In the past two weeks Chester County residents have been subjected to outrageous efforts by local Republicans and their far-right followers to subvert our free and fair election processes and to intimidate, and take over local offices they cannot win in free and fair elections.

Two weeks ago the Voters Services conducted a very informative program outlining the depth and complexity of security systems that ensure our county elections are both open and honest from registration through to certification. At the end of that presentation the “big lie” crowd shouted questions, insulted those they disagreed with and in some cases resorted to profanity.

Just a few days ago the Board of Elections was assailed by this same group making unsubstantiated claims that our county elections are corrupt and demanding a “forensic audit” such as the one done in Maricopa County, Arizona. It should be noted that audit, a farce done by a company with no election audit experience, did not find fraud.

The most recent assault on process and civility came when a group of 10 petitioners, led by Beth Ann Rosica, a leader of the anti-mask group Back to School, filed a petition claiming that the West Chester Area School District board violated the state constitution when it required masks in schools. The state Supreme Court, by a slim 4-3 margin, ruled Gov. Tom Wolf’s mask mandate unconstitutional.

The petitioners overlooked the part of the law that has given schools authority to make decisions concerning the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and parents.

The petition was presented to Common Pleas Judge William P. Mahon. He eventually issued a ruling removing board members Sue Tiernan, Joyce Chester, Kate Shaw, Karen Hermann and Daryl Durnel from the board for voting for masks. However, Mahon did not make his ruling on the merits of the case, but on what he felt was the district’s failure to respond to the petition in a timely fashion.

This past week he rescinded his removal order, agreeing the deadline was confusing. This will allow the case to go forward on its merits, which are non-existent in our view.

Why do we say this is a continued effort to win by threats and intimidation what could not be won at the polls?

In the 2021 board elections Rosica, who came in last in the most recent West Chester Borough mayoral election, and a group she helped form (Students First West Chester) fielded candidates in an attempt to take the board majority away from members she claimed were put in office by liberals and other leftists. Her goal was to “take back” the board in the name of concerned parents opposed to masks and the alleged teaching of “Critical Race Theory.”

One of their candidates, Stacey Whomsley, won a seat, but with 25 percent of the vote in a 5-candidate race. Chester, on the other hand, won with 63 percent of the vote and Fleming with 54 percent.

What we are seeing here is what has become the trademark Republican response to elections they clearly lost. They claim voter fraud or they resort to other means, including threats and intimidation and frivolous lawsuits, to overturn the results. In this case their view of democracy is 10 poor losers controlling who sits on an elected school board.

We are better than this in Chester County, and I hope voters who know better make every effort to go to register, go to the polls, get friends and neighbors to vote and stop this attack on our elections, the core of our democracy, and on our schools.

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